Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Making Money

The "Euro Crisis" has receded from the front pages, at least for the moment. Why so? Fundamentally because the European Central Bank (ECB) did what it said it wouldn't/couldn't do - print up some extra money. So what does quantitative easing, European style, look like?

The most obvious way to do it would have been to buy up sovereign debt from the troubled Southern countries, thereby lowering their borrowing costs. This is one thing recommended by Krugman and other critics. Silly naive Americans!

The European way is more subtle. What happens instead is that the ECB lends money - half a trillion Euros, so far - to peripheral and other troubled banks. These loans are secured by collateral - mostly sovereign debt of the self-same troubled nations. This provides those nations with liquidity, for the present. It doesn't immediately do anything for solvency problems, but with luck, it might help prevent a disastrous descent into another recession.

The deal made was that those bailed out in this deal would get a friendly German boot on their throat to prevent them from overspending in the future. If it doesn't work out, somebody, presumably mostly Germany, is stuck with the half a trillion in noncollectable debt. If it does, eat your heart out Ron Paul.